PASSED/FAILED: Brenda Blethyn

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Brenda Blethyn, 50, worked for 10 years as a secretary before going to drama school. Her latest film is Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies.

First Qualifications? The 21-yards Freestyle Certificate, when I was 11. I also won a county cookery competition with my nutritious casserole and rhubarb crumble for four.

Educating Brenda? At St Augustine's, Ramsgate, I did 10 CSEs: I got 98 per cent in maths and also a credit in art. I did well in geography, needlework, cookery and English. I also got history, French, religious instruction and science. Then, at 15, I went to Thanet Technical College, where I did secretarial training; I passed RSA exams in book-keeping, shorthand and typewriting. I still use the shorthand - daily.

School of hard knocks? I did unarmed combat at drama school; the teacher used to get worked up and use the most violent language. We did fencing as well; the awards came from the Society of British Fight Directors.

Darling, were you wonderful? At Guildford School of Acting, I passed the LAMDA acting exams with merit; you did two prepared pieces - a poem and an acting piece. I also got the Stage Management Certificate - it was woodwork, really, because I made stage flats.

Was it a long run? It was a two-year course but I left before the end because I was offered a job - with an Equity card - with the Bubble Theatre which toured the London boroughs with a big tent. A year later I was at the National.

Best notices? When I was a secretary and PA - for British Rail, Walt Disney and an advertising agency - I did amateur acting and we used to go to drama festivals in the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester. I was Best Actress a couple of times. I won the British Television Comedy Award for Best Actress for Outside Edge; at Cannes I won the same award, or rather Prix D'Interpretation Feminine - for Secrets and Lies.

Flops? I took the 11-plus twice and still didn't pass! At a night school class in judo, I was partnered with a huge girl who landed on me; I was winded and never went back. I was nominated for the very first Olivier Award; I didn't win.